EC 1.7 (7-20-94)
by Douglas Davis, Ph.D.
Good writers who once used better words, now only use four-letter words -- Writing prose, anything goes.
This week we deal with the erotic/manipulative possibilities of the writer's act, in preparation to next week's segue to the interactive world of Internet Chat, MUDs, and MOOs.
The relationship of the writer to the text -- and to the pen-and-paper, typewriter, or word-processor by means of which ideas become words on a page to be re-read, edited, and eventually read by another -- has often been characterized as aggressive. The Hemingwayesque novelist struggles with writer's block as a personified demon to be cursed, wrestled, and temporarily outsmarted -- often via self-medication and angry manipulation of the writing instrument itself. The result, presumably, has been a martyred series of Watermans, Smith-Coronas, and Trash 80s. I have been hinting in these columns, however, that the tools of writing, particularly when digital-interactive, are also erotic -- and I believe the stylistic features of network prose bear out this claim. On the one hand, many people who rely on computer keyboards for communication seem to find the keyboarding itself sexy in some way; and on the other, the erotic prose produced for Net-consumption seems to me unusually preoccupied with the interface between sex and aggression -- with the eroticism of control, manipulation, and even pain.
I don't plan detailed examination of individual net-fictions in this column, but if you are legally mature and incorruptible you might want to form your own opinion of the relationship between manipulative control, erotic fantasy, and communication with an absent/imagined consumer. For the mature reader, I'd suggest beginning this study with a pre-digital example. Consider the pseudonymous Pauline Réage essay "A Girl in Love," in which she describes writing the 1954 erotic classic Story of O piecemeal, longhand, and trusting each day's product to a lover via the Paris mails. The result was a novel that continues to sell steadily in college towns, and whose coolly sadomasochistic content has prompted a substantial critical literature. The themes of O are pornographic standards: the eponymous female protagonist is drawn by her own desire into collaboration with two men -- her young lover and his middle-aged mentor -- who proceed to turn her into a sex machine. The punishments promised and delivered to "O" not only transform her erotic responses per se -- in which the beating heart and sweating armpits of pain are confused with those of lust -- but also undercut her very sense of herself as a volitional and autonomous being. The better she becomes at this erotic game, the less self-consciously she is able to play it, the more she transcends human constraints. By the end of her devolution O has become ambiguously human, is primitivized like a neolithic artifact or an animal deity (the owl). Her affective responses have been brought to a level of conditioning rendering her rather a trained pet than a human lover -- and the consequent sense we have of her as an object of rather than a volitional participant in the sexual scenes Réage casts for her, is the source both of her uncanny appeal and of the controversy surrounding the work.
This French erotic novel is often invoked by the more pedestrian prose of the sexual BBS. Nowadays, if postings to Usenet's alt.sex ... categories are to be believed, many people write prose at the behest of a real or imagined sexual partner, and the compulsion to fictionalize is experienced as erotic. Ms. Réage's example, like most of those posted to alt.sex.bondage, suggests that such fictions are also likely to toy with erotic fantasies of an explicitly aggressive sort. Some months ago, an anonymous poster to alt.sex.stories (email@example.com, using the handle "The Mind Control Fan" and requesting that he not be asked to email stories) compiled a list of over 70 recent postings to Usenet with mind-control themes. I don't pretend to have done -- or heard of -- an empirical study of theme and content preferences comparing traditional (page-turner), BBS-posted, and interactive erotica. Anyone interested in collaborating on such a project?
Next week: Adventure.
Dworkin, Andrea. (1974). Woman Hating: Story of O.
Réage, Pauline. (1965). Story of O. (trans. S. d'Estrée). New York: Grove Press. (Original work published in 1954).
Réage, Pauline. (1971). Return to the château. (trans. S. d'Estrée). New York: Grove Press. (Original work published in 1969).
Copyright (C) Douglas Davis 1994. All rights reserved.